It’s easy to feel powerless if you’ve just been diagnosed with diabetes, or even prediabetes. But the key to getting the best care possible and living well in the long term is to take control of the disease, says Dr. Maureen Clement a Vernon, B.C.-based physician and past chair of the Clinical & Scientific Section of the Canadian Diabetes Association. “People should be informed as much as they can and be empowered,” she says. “They should feel confident that they can manage whatever part they have in their care.”
The critical component on this new journey? A good relationship with your healthcare team, so that you’re all working efficiently toward a common goal: your best health. And they can’t do their jobs without you doing yours: preparing for appointments and asking questions.
“It’s hard to know how to treat a person with diabetes without all the information,” says Dr. Clement. “It’s not a passive interaction.”
First things first
One of the best places to arm yourself with information is the Canadian Diabetes Association website. There are a many other online sources, but talk to your healthcare team about their veracity. “It’s important to go to a reasonable source,” says Dr. Clement. “Diabetes is a very big money maker for a lot of fringe treatments, you have to be a savvy consumer when it comes to reading about the latest cure.” Ask your healthcare team about books, websites or other resources they recommend.
Self-management is extremely important with diabetes – your daily decisions can have a huge impact on the progression of the disease. But it can be overwhelming and unrealistic to change everything at once. “People need to analyze how their lives and diabetes intersect,” says Dr. Clement. Then ask your healthcare provider where to start improving your lifestyle.
Tests and tools
Blood tests at home, blood tests at the clinic, food and exercise diaries – you now have a lot to keep track of. Thankfully, these days, there are numerous options to help you stay on top of things. Know your preferences – paper or smartphone, for instance – and ask for recommendations on the best fit for you, whether it’s an app or a notebook. The key here is staying the course. Keeping track of everything will give you a sense of control over your disease.
Managing for the long term
One-third of patients diagnosed with prediabetes will have full-blown diabetes within five years, Dr. Clement says. And since the most serious complication for those with prediabetes is heart disease, you need to know about your risk factors – which includes smoking.
As for people already diagnosed with diabetes, good self-care will keep the disease – and its complications – from getting worse. Ask your healthcare team for advice on your personal situation, and remember that you control your lifestyle, and that appointments with your healthcare team are all for you.
“What’s sometimes forgotten is that the interaction is for the patient, not the healthcare team,” says Dr. Clement. “People with diabetes often say, ‘You’ll be mad at me, I didn’t do this.’ But they’re not there to please the healthcare provider – they should be there for themselves.”